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Basic gun safety in Hillsborough County shooting could have saved daughter

Fritz Casper of Shooting Sports Inc. in Tampa looks through an empty magazine of a 9mm Glock. He teaches students to never attempt to clean a gun unless absolutely certain it is not loaded.

STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times

Fritz Casper of Shooting Sports Inc. in Tampa looks through an empty magazine of a 9mm Glock. He teaches students to never attempt to clean a gun unless absolutely certain it is not loaded.

TAMPA — Firearms experts across Tampa Bay on Monday said they knew what could have saved the life of federal public defender Melissa Kupferberg.

Basic gun safety.

Kupferberg died Saturday as she and her father cleaned guns at her Seminole Heights home.

Police say Kupferberg, 32, was having trouble disassembling a Glock Model 34, so she handed it to her father, Stephen. As he tried to tear down the pistol, a single shot fired and struck Melissa in the upper body. She died shortly after arriving at a hospital.

"What has occurred is sad, but it re-emphasizes the importance of gun safety," said Officer Brian Rivera, a firearms instructor for the St. Petersburg Police Department. "Hopefully, if you can keep these rules in your head, you can keep this from happening. But we're all human. All it takes is a moment's slip of the mind."

Tampa police said Monday that the gun belonged to a friend, but didn't release the name. It's not clear how familiar the father and daughter were with the borrowed gun.

Reached by phone, Stephen Kupferberg, 65, declined to comment.

"It appears as if this is a tragic accident, and although we don't anticipate any criminal charges, we still have to take a look at the case," said Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis.

Experts say the Glock Model 34 is a specialized semiautomatic gun, typically fired in competitions and at gun ranges. It's not used as much as a personal defense weapon because it has a longer slide than other guns, making it bulky.

From the police account of what happened, basic safety rules weren't followed, said Fritz Casper, a firearms instructor at Shooting Sports Inc., a gun range along N Dale Mabry Highway.

"This is a tragedy, don't get me wrong," he said. "But I have a problem with this whole scenario."

Safety Rule No. 1, Casper said, is always point the gun in a safe direction. Never — ever — point it at someone. This rule is followed even when everyone knows the gun is empty, he said.

"That's just out of respect for the other person," Casper said. "In competition, if you point the gun at someone, you're immediately disqualified."

There are other very elementary rules, like keeping your finger off the trigger and making sure the gun doesn't have bullets in it.

"Check, check, check, and recheck," Casper said. "That's the hardest thing to teach."

One feature of this particular Glock is that the trigger must be pressed gently so that it can be taken apart, which is unusual for guns. But if the Kupferbergs had made sure the gun was empty and that it wasn't pointed at anyone, this wouldn't pose a danger, Casper and Rivera said.

"Just know the rules and follow them," River said. "That's why we have our cadets recite these rules verbatim before we let them handle a gun."

Casper said the manual that comes with the Glock is "crystal clear" about how to take it apart, so he's not sure why Kupferberg needed her dad's help.

Rivera said if they weren't familiar with it, they shouldn't have been cleaning it.

"Why would you disassemble something you're not familiar with?" he said. "Any firearm that you use you should have training for it."

Correction:

A story Tuesday about the shooting death of Melissa Kupferberg misidentified her job at the federal public defender's office. She was an investigator.

Times staff writer Kevin Graham contributed to this story. Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (813) 226-3402 or mvansickler@sptimes.com.

Basic gun safety in Hillsborough County shooting could have saved daughter 11/09/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 2:21pm]
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